202 – Room to Grow: Engine Builders – The Family Gamers Podcast

Wingspan board

Episode 202

Room to Grow:

Engine Builders

We find out that 202 is a “Smith number”! (Thanks Wikipedia…)

This episode of the podcast is sponsored by First Move Financial. You only have a few more days to file your taxes! If you don’t understand the new changes in tax law affecting retirement, you might want to set up a call with First Move by going to firstmovefinancial.com/familygamers, they’re happy to have a quick conversation about your retirement needs to see if they can help you.

We’re going to talk this week about how to teach a specific mechanic (engine builders) to your kids, starting with a very simple game and then moving to more complex games.

What We’ve Been Playing

Wingspan – maybe overhyped, but it’s a good game and we’re enjoying it.

Unlock: Squeek and Sausage – you’re escaping a mad scientist (who looks a bit like a clown). Not overly scary, good with our kids.

Quirky Circuits

Valeria Card Kingdoms – definitely has a few features that make it more fun than Machi Koro.

Super Cats – quickly becoming a big hit with our family.

Barenpark with both expansions from The Bad News Bears – surprisingly, playing with two expansions was not more difficult or long than playing with a single expansion.

Tussie Mussie (Button Shy) – we are becoming big fans of Elizabeth Hargrave’s designs. (We pre-ordered her next one: Mariposas) The solo expansion for Tussie Mussie is pretty easy to learn and feels like playing against a real opponent, which Anitra always likes.

Desert Pack (Button Shy) – by Sam Bryant and Gwen Ruelle. A bluff/combat game, where every card is identical! Fight and defend with your coyotes in their given orientations; rest some coyotes to upgrade them, but defending coyotes get downgraded (or removed from the game).

Skulk Hollow (Pencil First Games) – Asymmetric dueling game, review is out today. We really like this game!

Ticket to Ride on iOS – Andrew managed to get his lowest score ever…


The 2020 Kinderspiel des Jahres winner was not a HABA game, and from a publisher who has never won a Kinderspiel before. The game is called Speedy Roll, and it’s super cute, using a sort of fuzzy ball “hedgehog” to pick up apples, mushrooms, and leaves.

Marshmallow Test

SNAP Review – Marshmallow Test

No, not “chubby bunny”. It’s not that kind of marshmallow test! We review Marshmallow Test, a simple trick-taking game from Reiner Knizia and Gamewright.

Go to the SNAP review page for a full transcript and more pictures.

Room to Grow – Engine Builders

Let’s talk about engine builders. What is it?

This is the definition we found: “Engine building: a game system in which player actions become stronger or more effective over time.”

That’s a good place to start, but encompasses a much wider scope than we are looking at here.

Deck builders vs. engine builders: In an engine builder, the structure of your turn is the same every time, but based on the decisions YOU have made, you’ll increasingly get to do more things or more powerful things on your turn. Generally most information is laid out for all to see.

A lot of games that we call “good” or “engaging” have some aspect of engine-building to them.


In a deck builder (or a bag builder), you’re controlling what goes in to your deck, but you can’t control when those helpful things come out again. That information is hidden from you and is more dependent on luck/chance.

In this epsiode, we’re focused on the type of game where your engine is out in front of you where everyone can see it.

Beginning Level Engine Builders: Splendor and Machi Koro

At a starting level, our aim is games that can be introduced to a younger audience. Lots of people recommend Splendor, which has several points in its favor:

  • Straightforward: take gems, use gems to buy cards.
  • Options are out for everyone to see.
  • The ultimate goals (nobles) don’t change from turn to turn or round to round.
  • No reading required.

Recommendation: the iOS/Android app for Splendor is cheap and works well with pass and play.

We prefer Machi Koro to introduce kids to the engine-builder concepts.

  • You make choices for which buildings to build, trying to get more coins, to build more buildings, to get more coins…
  • Everything is out in front of players and more experienced players can help talk through decisions.
  • We think “you get coins when this number is rolled” is easier to explain than the “discounts” in Splendor.
  • You are more invested in other people’s turns.

Recommendation: If you’re getting Machi Koro, get the Bright Lights, Big City version. It includes several improvements over the original.

Easy Mid-level Engine Builder: Century (Golem or Spice Road)

Century: Golem has been a big hit with our kids, and it’s basically just a friendly re-skin of Century: Spice Road.

  • Separates buying victory points from getting resources.
  • Not allowed to hoard resources.
  • Some hidden info – once you pick up engine cards, you can keep them hidden.

Ready for the Big Time: Wingspan

Wingspan is not the most complicated engine builder out there (it’s still pretty straightforward), but it’s more complex than the others we’ve mentioned.

  • Must balance keeping resources for victory points with spending them to improve your engine.
  • Multiple types of “currency” – eggs, food, and (sometimes) cards.
  • Your scarcest resource is turn-count.
  • Your choices may affect other players (and their choices may affect you!)


Many recommendations for Splendor and Machi Koro.

Nick recommends Fantastic Factories and Gizmos.

Deck builders will come soon.

Seth Overdeer recommends The Builders: Middle Ages. It might be an engine-builder? Whether it is or not, it’s available to play on Board Game Arena, so we’ll probably check that out.

Terraforming Mars is recommended on the more complex end? Maybe a good choice if you want something more complex than Wingspan.

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